The Ballot-test The Old Gentleman And His Diseased Relatives
An aptitude for deception is all the capital that a person requires in
order to become a "spirit-medium;" or, at least, to gain the reputation
of being one. Backing up the pretence to mediumship with a show of
something mysterious, is all-sufficient to enlist attention, and insure
the making of converts.
One of the most noted of the mediumistic fraternity--whose name I do not
choose to give at present--st
adily pursued his business, for several
years, in a room in Broadway, in this city, and succeeded not only in
humbugging a good many people, but in what was more important to
him--acquiring quite an amount of money. His mode of operating was "the
ballot-test," and was as follows:
Medium and investigator being seated opposite each other at a table, the
latter was handed several slips of blank paper, with the request that he
write the first (or Christian) names--one on each paper--of several of
his deceased relatives, which being done, he was desired to touch the
folded papers, one after the other, till one should be designated, by
three tips of the table, as containing the name of the spirit who would
communicate. The selected paper was laid aside, and the others thrown
upon the floor, the investigator being further requested to write on as
many different pieces of paper as contained the names, and the relation
(to himself) of the spirits bearing them. Supposing the names written
were Mary, Joseph, and Samuel, being, respectively, the investigator's
mother, father, and brother. The last-named class would be secondly
written, and one of them designated by three tips of the table, as in
the first instance. The respective ages of the deceased parties, at the
time of their decease, would also be written, and one of them selected.
The first "test" consisted in having the selected name, relationship,
and age correspond--that is, refer to the same party; to ascertain which
the investigator was desired to look at them, and state if it was the
case. If the correspondence was affirmed, a communication was soon
given, with the selected name, relationship, and age appended.
Questions, written in the presence of the medium, were answered
relevantly, if not pertinently. Investigators generally did their part
of the writing in a guarded manner, interposing their left hand between
the paper on which they wrote and the medium's eyes; and they were very
much astonished when they received a communication, couched in
affectionate terms, with the names of their spirit-friends attached.
By long practice, the medium was enabled to determine what the
investigator wrote, by the motion of his hand in writing. Nine out of
ten wrote the relationship first that corresponded with the first name
they had written. Therefore, if the medium selected the first that was
written of each class, they in most cases referred to the same spirit.
He waited till the investigator had affirmed the coincidence, before
proceeding; for he did not like to write a communication, appending to
it, for instance, "Your Uncle John," when it ought to be "Your Father
John." The reason he did not desire inquirers to write the surnames of
their spirit-friends, was this: almost all Christian names are common,
and he was familiar with the motions which the hand must make in writing
them; but there are comparatively few people who have the same surnames,
and to determine them would have been more difficult. No fact was
communicated that had not been surreptitiously gleaned from the
An old gentleman, apparently from the country, one day entered the room
of this medium and expressed a desire for a "sperit communication."
He was told to take a seat at the table, and to write the names of his
deceased relatives. The medium, like many others, incorrectly pronounced
the term "deceased," the same as "diseased"--sounding the s like z.
The old gentleman carefully adjusted his "specs" and did what was
required of him. A name and relationship having been selected from those
written, the investigator was desired to examine and state if they
referred to one party.
"Wal, I declare they do!" said he. "But I say Mister, what has them
papers to do with a sperit communication?"
"You will see, directly," replied the medium.
Whereupon the latter spasmodically wrote a "communication," which read
somewhat as follows:
"MY DEAR HUSBAND:--I am very glad to be able to address you through
this channel. Keep on investigating, and you will soon be convinced
of the great fact of spirit-intercourse. I am happy in my
spirit-home; patiently awaiting the time when you will join me
here, etc. Your loving wife, BETSEY."
"Good gracious! But my old woman can't be dead," said the investigator,
"for I left her tu hum!"
"Not dead!" exclaimed the medium. "Did I not tell you to write the names
of deceazed relatives?"
"Diseased!" returned the old man; "Wal, she ain't anything else, for
she's had the rumatiz orfully for six months!"
Saying which, he took his hat and left, concluding that it was not worth
while to "keep on investigating" any longer at that time.
This same medium, not long since, visited Great Britain for the purpose
of practicing his profession there.
In one of the cities of Scotland, some shrewd investigator divined that
he was able to nearly guess from the motion of the hand what questions
"Are you happy?" being a question commonly asked the "spirits," one of
these gentlemen varied it by asking:
"Are you hungry?"
The reply was, an emphatic affirmative.
They tricked the trickster in other ways; one of which was to write the
names of mortals instead of spirits. It made no difference, however, as
to getting a "communication."
To tip the table without apparent muscular exertion, this impostor
placed his hands on it in such a way that the "pisiform bone" (which may
be felt projecting at the lower corner of the palm, opposite the thumb)
pressed against the edge. By pushing, the table tipped from him, it
being prevented from sliding by little spikes in the legs of the side
opposite the operator.
There are other "ballot-test mediums," as they are called, who have a
somewhat different method of cheating. They, too, require investigators
to write the names--in full, however--of their spirit-friends; the slips
of paper containing the names, to be folded and placed on a table. The
medium then seizes one of the "ballots," and asks:
"Is the spirit present whose name is on this?"
Dropping that and taking another:
So he handles all the papers without getting a response. During this
time, however, he has dexterously "palmed" one of the ballots,
which--while telling the investigator to be patient, as the spirits
would doubtless soon come--he opens with his left hand, on his knee,
under the edge of the table.
A mere glance enables him to read the name. Refolding the paper, and
retaining it in his hand, he remarks:
"I will touch the ballots again, and perhaps one of them will be
designated this time."
Dropping among the rest the one he had "palmed," he soon picks it up
again, whereat three loud "raps" are heard.
"That paper," says he to the investigator, "probably contains the name
of the spirit who rapped; please hold it in your hand."
Then seizing a pencil, he writes a name, which the investigator finds to
be the one contained in the selected paper.
If the ballots are few in number, a blank is put with the pile, when the
medium "palms" one, else the latter might be missed.
It seems the spirits can never give their names without being reminded
of them by the investigator, and then they are so doubtful of their own
identity that they have but little to say for themselves.
One medium to whom I have already alluded, after a sojourn of several
years in California--whither he went from Boston, seeking whom he might
humbug--has now returned to the East, and is operating in this city.
Besides answering sealed letters, he furnishes written "communications"
to parties visiting him at his rooms--a "sitting," however, being
granted to but one person at a time. His terms are only five dollars an
Seated at a table in a part of the room where is the most light, he
hands the investigator a strip of blank, white paper, rather thin and
light of texture, about a yard long and six inches wide, requesting him
to write across one end of it a single question, addressed to a
spirit-friend, then to sign his own name, and fold the paper once or
twice over what he has written. For instance:
"BROTHER SAMUEL:--Will you communicate with me through this medium?
To learn what has been written, the medium lays the paper down on the
table, and repeatedly rubs the fingers of his right hand over the folds
made by the inquirer. If that does not render the writing visible
through the one thickness of paper that covers it, he slightly raises
the edge of the folds with his left hand while he continues to rub with
his right; and that admits of the light shining through, so that the
writing can be read. The other party is so situated that the writing is
not visible to him through the paper, and he is not likely to presume
that it is visible to the medium; the latter having assigned as a reason
for his manipulations that spirits were able to read the questions only
by means of the odylic, magnetic, or some other emanation from the ends
of his fingers!
Having learned the question, of course the medium can reply to it,
giving the name of the spirit addressed; but before doing so, he
doubles the two folds made by the inquirer, and, for a show of
consistency, again rubs his fingers over the paper. Then more folds and
more rubbing--all the folding, additional to the inquirer's, being done
to keep the latter from observing, when he comes to read the answer,
that it was possible for the medium to read the question through the two
folds of paper. The answer is written upon the same strip of paper that
accompanies the question.
The medium requires the investigator to write his questions each on a
different strip of paper; and before answering, he every time
manipulates the paper in the way I have described. When rubbing his
fingers over the question, he often shuts the eye which is toward the
inquirer--which prevents suspicion; but the other eye is open wide
enough to enable him to read the question through the paper.
Should a person write a test-question, the medium could not answer it
correctly even if he did see it. In his "communications" he uses many
terms of endearment, and if possible flatters the recipient out of his
common-sense, and into the belief that "after all there may be something
Should the inquirer "smell a rat," and take measures to prevent the
medium from learning, in the way I have stated, what question is
written, he (the medium) gets nervous and discontinues the "sitting,"
alleging that conditions are unfavorable for spirit-communication.